It’s been a couple of months or so since my latest novel, Corporate Slave, came out and a lot’s happened in that time. In fact, bearing in mind that although it’s an erotic novel but with some science fiction elements to it, things have already happened that mean one of the key sci-fi gadgets may be in your high street stores in the next couple of years.
That’s the trouble with science fiction. You imagine something that’s ahead of the curve of current technology, and within a few months technology has already caught up with you.
Specifically, one of the things I envisaged was an Intelligent Dress – a length of material that could be worn in a variety of styles, contained a lot of computer technology built into the material, was capable of using built-in sensors to react to things like air pressure changes to anticipate a blow and change its structure to act like armour, and could change colour based on the wearer’s mood. Oh, and it would be powered from the electrical current of the wearer’s body.
When I ‘invented’ the Intelligent Dress I knew some of these things were already being worked on in various labs around the world.
The idea of the dress being powered by the electrical current in the body of the wearer was, in fact, based on the ADE651 (here’s what Wikipedia says about it), a handheld explosives detector created by a British company and sold extensively in Iraq. Unfortunately, investigations by the BBC and evaluations by other more technical sources concluded that it was, basically, useless and in the UK a fraud investigation was launched against the company’s managing director. Nonetheless bodies do carry a small electric charge and if you use a multimeter you can measure it. So the basic idea of a body-powered electronic device isn’t an impossibility. It’s just not been used to power any working devices yet, but I’m sure someone, somewhere is working on it.
Changing colour: there are a number of ‘smart materials’ already in use in different applications. There’s a list on Wikipedia. One company already makes a yarn that changes colour depending on the UV light it’s exposed to – though that wasn’t the specific reaction I had in mind.
There are also electrotextiles that change elasticity with an electric current. You can read about them here and here and there are other possibilities for such materials here which include textiles that change composition quickly in reaction to different stimuli. So the idea that a mechanism to turn a dress into armour isn’t far-fetched. It can already be done, as that last link indicates, with sheets of nanotube-coated paper. It’s just a case of detecting the threat and applying the stimulus to cause the change.
Finally, as to the computing facility built into clothing: we’ve just had grapheme announced as a material that will enable this, while using a different technology, there’s also a company CuteCircuit now marketing a ‘Twitter dress’.
So the smart idea I had in early 2012 for how clothing might become intelligent in a few decades’ time had become, by the end of 2012, something that looked like it could be introduced by, perhaps, 2014.
All of the elements I proposed already exist in some form or another in different yarns and textiles. I’m sure there are already people thinking about how to integrate these different functionalities – perhaps not for fashion purposes, but for medicine or whatever, though they’ll feed through into the clothing market quickly enough after that.
And bear in mind that if you go out clubbing in rough neighbourhoods, stab-proof fashion garments have already been on the market for quite a while…
If I write another sci-fi erotic story, which is highly likely, next time I’ll have to set my sights a little higher. A faster-than-light warp-driven spaceship, perhaps. But then NASA have already commissioned a feasibilty study. Read about it here.
What’s isn’t particularly sci-fi in the novel, though, is the sex. It’s still real, hard sex mostly informed by the tropes of BDSM and based on the idea that BDSM becomes the new ‘normal’ way to have sex. Oh wait… someone published a novel that led to widespread interest in it, didn’t they? So maybe even that’s not as radical as I’d thought when I started writing. Though some of the social and economic contexts I put it in are, I hope, unlikely to happen in my lifetime. But I’m not holding my breath about that.
One thing that does, as far as I know, remain ahead of the curve is that since ‘fucking’ as a swearword is common enough to be almost polite conversation, I found a new one. Yes, it’s a real practice. Yes, it also begins with an ‘f’ and ends in ‘-ing’. But it’s a little more… perverted. And while I haven’t heard it being used as a swearword yet, I’d lay money on overhearing people using it in casual conversation sometime in the next year or so.